It's recommended by both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Dental Association that every child have their first dental visit by age 1. This first visit helps adults learn how to properly care for their children's teeth and understand common unhealthy practices to avoid. For example, most parents don't realize that allowing their children to fall asleep with a bottle can encourage early tooth decay.
Starting dental visits early on in a child's life helps to establish a familiar routine and positive care techniques. Children who have visited the dentist twice a year from the time that they were one have less anxiety about dental visits than children who never visited a dentist before. As with most practices a child learns, they establish their routine based on what they see around them.
How is a Pediatric Dentist Different From Other Dentists?
It's a common misconception to think that all dental professionals are alike. The truth is that a pediatric dentist is quite different from a general dentist. A pediatric dentist specializes in providing care and treating dental issues that are common in children. These specialized dentists are trained to properly care for children ranging from infants to teenagers. Just like a child goes to a pediatric physician, they need to frequent a pediatric dentist.
After earning their general dentistry degree, pediatric dentists spend two to three extra years participating in a post-graduate pediatric residency program. This program focuses on teaching them knowledge and skills regarding pediatrics, including children's orthodontics and pediatric sedation. Many residency programs will even dive into child development and psychology to give participants an in-depth perspective on how to properly care for their patients on a physical and mental level.
Planning a Child's First Dental Visit
Any new parent has a lot of tasks on their plate. Planning their child's first dental visit is one that they must ensure they don't skip over. Having their child's teeth evaluated by the time that they are one will help to ensure that their teeth remain healthy, and one learns the appropriate care techniques to practice for years to come. Planning a child's first visit starts with identifying a local pediatric dentist.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry offers a list of local providers in particular zipcodes on their website. When choosing one of these providers, a parent can be assured that the dentist is knowledgeable in the area of pediatric dentistry. It's a good idea to schedule an appointment when a child gets their first tooth or when they turn one, whichever comes first.
Preparing Your Child For the Visit
Everyone feels some anxiety when they go to a new place and meet new people. As a parent, it's important to look from the perspective of a child when determining how to prepare them for their first dental visit. Loud machines, bright lights, and masked dental professionals can all ring out as scary for a child. It's important to help familiarize a child with these common scary instances to make their transition to their first dental appointment smooth.
There are a ton of videos and books out there about going to the dentist. A parent should read these books and put on these videos for their children to enjoy. The more familiar the child becomes with the concept of a dentist and what's involved, the less anxiety they will have at their first appointment. It's also a great idea to model positive behavior. Children tend to follow the lead of their parents. When their parents are calm, they tend to be calmer. When their parents are nervous, they tend to be on edge. Don't forget to bring along their favorite toy, blanket, or stuffed animal for added comfort during their first visit.